Published 19th February 2018

It’s no secret that your first language is going to affect how you learn and speak English and the mistakes you are going to make. Getting to know these problems is part of your job as a teacher, so you can anticipate any difficulties your learners may have and plan how you will deal with them. We’ve spoken already about common problems for Chinese, Arabic and Spanish speakers, but now let us consider French learners.

Grammar

For French speakers there can be a problem forming questions in English. In French it’s possible to form a question simply by adding a question mark at the end of a statement whereas in English we need to use an auxiliary verb.

For example, You live in Dublin? versus Do you live in Dublin?

Then for question tags, French speakers are accustomed to using one tag for all types of questions, but in English the tag will change depending on the question.

For example, He’s your brother, isn’t it? Versus He’s your brother, isn’t he?

Or

You’ve been to Thailand, isn’t it? Versus You’ve been to Thailand, haven’t you?

Word order can also cause problems.

For example, I go usually out for dinner on Fridays versus I usually go out for dinner on Fridays.

Also, there is often confusion about when to use the gerund and when to use the infinitive.

For example, I must to study tonight versus I must study tonight.

And They enjoy to watch movies versus They enjoy watching movies.

Vocabulary

There are a number of words that look and sound similar in French and English but which actually have different meanings. These are known as false friends and can cause no end of confusion for learners.

For example:

  • Votres bras means your arm, not a bra
  • Bouton means pimple, not button
  • Envie means wish, not envy
  • Grappe means bunch, not grapes
  • Librairie means bookshop, not library

…and so many more!

Pronunciation

There are a few sounds in English which are not present in French or are pronounced differently in French so French speakers will have problems pronouncing them.

  • The ‘r’ sound versus the English /r/
  • The /Ɵ/ sound, as in Thursday and thirsty
  • /i/ versus /i:/

 

While there are problems when learning English for all learners no matter their first language, it can be useful to get to know what problems are specific to a particular first language. Now, for example, if you are teaching a French student one-to-one or a class of French learners you will have a better understanding of the problems they may have and so you will be able to anticipate the errors.